Fans lined Hollywood Boulevard near the iconic Graumann's Chinese Theatre last Wednesday in Hollywood, the street occupied by a huge red carpet tent lined with throngs of media and photographers jostling for position.
One by one the stars of Marvel's "The Avengers" arrived and made their way down, waving to screaming fans and enduring the barrage of media scrutiny about their clothes, the roles, the future of the franchise and more.
The lucky official attendees soon made their way into the huge main auditorium and were treated to the biggest movie of 2012 so far and certainly the best superhero movies in a long time.
The next day the stars gathered again in an ornate conference hall at Beverly Hills' Four Seasons, and Dark Horizons was there while Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders and writer/director Joss Whedon faced around 200 reporters for a superhero-sized grilling.
Question: What was your most memorable moment during filming?
Robert Downey Jr.: There's a moment where we're all assembled on the bridge [of the SHIELD flying aircraft carrier] and I think it was the time we all saw each other and realized we were probably likely to continue shooting the movie.
Chris Hemsworth: It was great. I believe that was our first day on set too with the whole ensemble which was a pretty exciting and nerve wracking, but it was just amazing.
Chris Evans: Mine was where Thor and Iron Man are fighting. I'd just seen Thor the day before and I'd yet to see Hemsworth or Downey in their full suits. So I showed up that night and it was the first time I saw them both geared up. And I felt like a little kid. I was just honored to be a part of it.
Mark Ruffalo: Mine was being naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton.
Samuel L. Jackson: I was naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton at the restaurant the night before he shot the scene with you.
Mark Ruffalo: You lucky bastard.
Chris Hemsworth: And you were naked in the audition, weren't you, Kevin?
Kevin Feige: That's right.
Clark Gregg: It was the day I got the script. As someone who writes sometimes and loves movies I felt like it was an unachievable task. I didn't think it was feasible to have this many characters move forward and have the story of them coming together really work.
And if it did work with that many amazing superheroes and movie stars I felt it unlikely Agent Coulson would do anything but bring some super coffee to somebody. So when I read it and saw that it was my fan boy wet dream of an Avengers script and Coulson was a big part of it that was the great day for me. I just drove around the streets giggling with the script in the other seat.
Joss Whedon: People kept asking me 'are you excited that you're directing this movie?' And I kept saying 'I will be'. I don't feel things necessarily in the moment. It will happen. We were in the lab where all the Avengers get together for the first time and, I was giving Chris Evans a piece of direction and I walked into the hall and stopped and said to the producers 'it happened. I'll tell you later.' And that was the moment, it just sort of flooded over me and I was like 'oh, that's nice'.
Question: How did you form a unique version of Bruce? Did you research it?
Mark Ruffalo: I met with Joss Whedon, and he said he really liked the Incredible Hulk TV show and what Bill Bixby did with him. So I rented the TV show with my ten-year-old son. And after the third episode he turned to me and said 'Papa, he's so misunderstood'. So I basically based the character entirely on my ten-year-old boy, who has all the force of nature screaming out of his body while having everyone around him telling him to fucking control himself.
Question: Robert, your character was the leader in the film, was it the same on set?
Robert Downey Jr.: Going back to 2007 when I was cast in Iron Man and Kevin Fiege said 'you know, this is all going to lead to having all these franchises come together. We're going to do something unprecedented in entertainment and make this Avengers movie. And I just remember I would get nervous about it and excited about it and doubtful of it.
And then by the time I already had a history with Sam I really wanted to capitalise on that. And by that time Chris and Chris had launched their individual franchises with success and charisma. And by the time we had Mark, I was like 'this is really going to happen'. So just being a worker amongst workers is where I started out. And it was nice to not really have to carry a movie. Everyone's really, really, equal in this venture. That will be my last sincere answer of the afternoon.
Question: If you could switch a character, who would it be and why?
Chris Evans: I want to say Iron Man because I just loved those movies, but who can do it better? The shoes would be too big to fill.
Samuel L. Jackson: I want to be Scarlett. I just want to be that cute for 15 minutes.
Question: How long have been working on The Avengers? How did you dovetail all the movies into this?
Kevin Feige: One answer is my whole life just because I've been a nerd by whole life and wanted to see this movie made. The real answer though is towards the end of production of Iron Man One when Sam was gracious enough to spend three hours on a Saturday to come and break into Tony Stark's house wearing an eye patch and tell him and the world that he was part of this bigger universe, he just didn't know it yet.
And that movie succeeded is when we said 'wait a minute, we actually have the opportunity to do it'. And the only challenge was to try to make all the movies live on their own even if we weren't leading towards an Avengers movie because if they're all just interconnected puzzle pieces, that's not as fun. They need to be movies beginning to end. So I would say that was the biggest challenge.
Question: Mark, what was it like coming in when everyone else had had their own movie?
Mark Ruffalo: It was terrifying and I knew what my responsibility was. I felt it just by making the mistake of going online and reading some of the fan boy responses to the announcement that I was playing the next version of Bruce Banner. That was a mistake, I'll never do that again. I've never had a role be more scrutinised and criticised even before I shot a single frame.
And coming onto the set with all of these guys was pretty daunting. Many of my heroes in life are in this cast. So it was tough. And I wish I had a cool costume to wear the entire time instead of a leotard that painted like a Chinese checkerboard.
Question: Chris, talk about not being the funny guy when you usually are in your films.
Chris Evans: Yeah, it's tough not getting any jokes. I wanted some jokes. But that's his role. It's necessary, and that's why I like it because I am used to leaning on cracking jokes and being a wise ass. So it's nice to play it straight a little bit.
Question: What's your favourite aspect of your character?
Chris Evans: Captain America's heart, his selflessness. He wasn't born a superhero, it didn't happen to him by accident. He was chosen, and it was for those reason, values and morals. He puts other people and other causes ahead of himself and it's something to aspire to.
Robert Downey Jr.: Well Tony Stark certainly didn't set out to do anything noble but he's kind of in transition. There's also something a little more Han Solo than Luke. Look at the fact that he can pull off wearing a Black Sabbath tee shirt for the better part of the film.
Chris Hemsworth: I like the visceral gut instinct Thor has and I always thought he has a childlike quality in the sense that if he believes something or wants to do something he does it. With kids own their environment there's no opinions that they really care about.
Question: Why was Joss Whedon the perfect guy to write and direct?
Kevin Feige: One of the only big fears I had was that the whole thing would collapse under its own weight, that we'd spend so much time with costumes and super powers and special effects these characters and these actors wouldn't get the chance to interact. My biggest interest in the Avengers is the interaction between these people.
And looking at Joss's body of work and the scripts he's written and his TV shows, the characters never get lost. In fact those are the moments that shine. We're confident in our ability to handle a production of this size, so we wanted a helmsman to come in and steer it in unexpected ways and to guide that tone which is what Joss has done so well.
Question: What was it like doing the comedy together?
Chris Hemsworth: Any time you do a scene with Downey he's so good with improv and working off the cuff. He's never going to do the same thing twice so you've got to be on your toes. So he brings a certain life to the scene even if you're not the one making jokes.
Robert Downey Jr.: In seeing it last night I think what everybody captured was that it was the right tone. We don't take it too seriously. This is essentially a comic book movie but you buy into the reality of it. So I think everyone has their moments, and I think Joss did a good job of finding everyone's frequency.
Question: Joss, what was the biggest challenge to wrap your head around?
Joss Whedon: That bunch of characters, that bunch of actors playing them, that much money. It was kind of a no brainer. And the hardest part is and always will be structure. How do you put that together? How do you make everybody shine? How do you let the audience's identification drift from person to person without making them feel like they're not involved? It's a very complex structure. It's not necessarily particularly ornate or original, but it had to be right, it had to be earned from moment-to-moment, and that's exhausting. That was still going on in the editing room after we shot it.
Question: What separates a good comic book adaptation film from a bad comic book adaptation film?
Joss Whedon: Capturing the essence of the comic and being true to what's wonderful about it, while remembering that it's a movie and not a comic. I think with the first "Spider-Man" they really figured out the formula of how to tell the story that they told in the comic. It was compelling. That's why it's iconic, but at the same time they did certain things that only a movie can do.
In "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" where they just threw out the comic or "Watchmen" where they did it frame for frame, neither of them worked. You have to give the spirit of the thing and then step away from that and create something cinematic and new.
Question: Joss, you've done movies with big ensemble casts before. How did you go about introducing all the characters in this film?
Joss Whedon: It's the same problem I had with Serenity and swore I'd never have again. Tracking the information is almost as difficult because it's not as much fun as tracking the emotion of the thing. You have to know how much people need to know, because some people come in knowing everything, and you don't want to tell them too much, and some people will come in knowing nothing.
You don't even want to tell them too much. You want some things to be inferred. It's fun to see a movie that has texture beyond what you understand necessarily that you know. When I watched Wall Street I didn't know what they were talking about but I was very compelled by it. It clearly mattered a lot.
If you feel that there's a life outside the frame you feel good about it, so we don't necessarily have to lay everything out, but organizing that is the most exhausting part of the film. The stuff between the characters is just the candy.
Question: Comic book and video games are closely related. What are your favorite video games?
Jeremy Renner: Half Life. That got me hooked on gaming.
Clark Gregg: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mass Effect. I still will rock some Asteroids.
Joss Whedon: I have friends, so I don't do that.
Jeremy Renner: Said the king of comic books.
Joss Whedon: I don't own any video games because if I start playing one that'll be it. I'll be gone and I won't be able to do this.
Tom Hiddleston: The last video game I played was Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo, so I'm from the dark ages.
Question: What advice would you give Warner Brothers on getting their Justice League movie going?
Joss Whedon: Call me. No, seriously, it's enormously difficult to take very disparate characters and make them work. And DC has a harder time of it than Marvel because their characters are from a bygone era where characters were bigger than we were. Marvel really cracked the code in terms of them being just like us. I think you need to use that as your base.
Question: Was there ever any costume envy on set?
Clark Gregg: There are certain times of the morning when I wish I did have some of the guardian armor to walk around in. And God knows, the antlers of doom that Loki has look cool, but 13, 14 hours into the day I'm quite pleased to be in my cool pressed Dolce and Gabbana suit.
Tom Hiddleston: It takes two hours to get into Loki's outfit sometimes, and it's even more fun when you fight in it. The sweat pools in your chest and it's a really luxurious experience.
Question: Jeremy, talk about preparing for this role.
Jeremy Renner: I did take some archery but realised very quickly that I couldn't really use it in the film. It ended up being superhero archery. It's nice to know the technique behind it but then, you know I'm shooting behind my back and over my shoulder and using fake arrows. But I gave it a go and shot a few bales of hay and missed a few, but the physical part was just stretching so I don't get injured.
Question: Tom, knowing how old school you are about video games, are you equally as old school when it comes to comics?
Tom Hiddleston: In the UK I grew up on these called Beano and the Dandy and most people's access to Marvel and DC was later through cartoons and, and trading cards. But I was introduced to American comics really through the movies. Christopher Reeve as Superman was the first superhero I ever conceived of when I saw the movie at age six or so.
Question: There's an interesting balance between the action, characters and the conflicts they have, such as Iron Man rejecting the soldier mentality Captain America had. How did you develop these characters? Any ideology involved?
Joss Whedon: Well, you have to write something you believe in. Captain America was kind of my ground zero for the film, and the idea of someone who had been in World War II and seen people laying down their lives in the worst kinds of circumstances, it's a very different concept of manhood to be part of something as opposed to isolated from something. The way it's kind of devolved from Steve [Rogers, Captain America] to Tony [Stark, Iron Man] is fascinating.
Obviously you're not going to stand around and speechify too much, but the idea of the soldier ready to lay down their life is very different than the idea of the superhero. And I wanted to make it a war movie from the start and put these guys through more than they'd go through in a normal superhero movie. So it was important to build that concept and have Tony reject it on every level. Then in the end when he's willing to make the sacrifice, you get where's he's come on how Steve has affected him.